The Skinny on Muscle Imbalances - Restoring Order As A Means Of Eliminating Back Pain

Armen Hareyan's picture
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There are many causes of back pain. Injury, illness, herniated disks and poor posture are just a few.

Muscle imbalances are one of the lesser side effects of improper use, posture, strain and injury, and are commonly the cause of the aches and pains associated with back pain. Unfortunately, most doctors don't diagnose muscle imbalances until it is too late.

Muscle Imbalances Defined

So what exactly is a muscle imbalance? A muscle imbalance is exactly as it sounds, an 'imbalance' or inequality that exists within the muscles. It occurs when two or more muscles in the body that oppose each other are disproportionate.

An example of a common muscle imbalance occurs in the muscles of the quadriceps and hamstrings. Most people work hard to strengthen the front part of their leg but often skimp when it comes to exercising the hamstring. A muscle imbalance in this area of the leg can result in a 'popping' sound in the knee. It can also result in back pain.

The single most common muscle imbalance leading to back pain is disproportionate abdomen to back ratio. Think of it this way... it's like a teeter totter that isn't balanced because one end is shorter than the other. It will still work but not optimally.

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Not exercising the abdomen can lead to severe back pain because the abdomen supports the back.

Biology of Muscles

It will help your understanding a bit if you have an idea of how muscles work. Muscles are fibrous tissues that connect to bones in the body, supporting the function of movement. To facilitate movement muscles contract and then relax. So a muscle gets shorter and then longer in response to movement. A muscle imbalance may result in too much or too little contracting or relaxing. Or, some muscles may get too strong while others aren't strong enough and can reduce a persons' stability.

Factors Contributing to Muscle Imbalances

One of the primary causes of muscle imbalances is poor posture. If you sit for too long in a bad position or continually stand with bad posture, your muscles adapt to your posture but in a bad way resulting in imbalances.

Muscle imbalances can also result when you overuse a muscle. If you are right handed for example and use a pull lever on the job, and only pull with the right hand, the right hand/arm will be stronger than the left which presents an imbalance.

The Benefits of Exercise

The good news is that exercise can help reduce and even eliminate muscle imbalances. (If not careful however, improper training can also lead to muscle imbalances).

You can exercise weaker muscles to catch them up to stronger ones and work to correct imbalances and maintain overall stability. You can assess whether or not opposing muscles are out of balance by testing your lifting strength. Try lifting your maximum on one side and then the other.

For example, if you can lift a 10 pound weight during a bicep curl on the left side, but a 30 pound weight on the right, you have a muscle imbalance. You should enlist the assistance of a trainer when testing muscle imbalances. By working with a trainer, you can develop a fitness program that not only addresses muscle imbalances but improves overall tone and strength. Usually a combination of strength training and physical therapy or chiropractic therapy can be used to correct muscle imbalances.

Prevention

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Comments

I suffer from lower back pain due to muscle imbalance. Unfortunately when seeing doctors or chiropractors they only address the problem temporarily using medication, massage, etc. But as long as the imbalance exists, the back is prone to failure. The best way to deal with the situation is to make an effort to learn and understand the anatomy and mechanics of the body. This will help you determine the cause of the muscle imbalance and then this needs to be corrected through exercise. There is no other magic formula. Wasting money on different products such as lotions, medicine, doctors it will only provide temporarily relief. My advise to back pain sufferers is to educate yourself basic human body anatomy, identify the imbalance and then corrected it by working the muscles on the week side, weather these are quads, hamstrings, abs, etc. If you want to spend some money, you should get the Back Care Basics book by Mary Pullig Shatz and optionally hire a physical trainer to help you figure out the muscle group(s) causing the imbalance situation and to provide you with the appropriate exercise routine. Additionally you can get into a yoga class to help you with muscle relaxation and stretching. Good luck!